There is a revival of interest in Gilbert & Sullivan. Part of this can be laid to the success of the film Topsy Turvy, but much of it is due to the tireless work of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society and Edinburgh’s Prince Consort Chorus and Orchestra behind this important release. It is amazing to me that, in the midst of their most fertile activity and the miraculous rebirth of the D’Oyly-Carte Company music critic Peter G. Davis could write in the …New York Magazine, “I’ve never yet met an Englishman who didn’t loath Gilbert and Sullivan…That explains why their classic Victorian operettas no longer thrive in the land of their birth.” Anyone doubting the resurgence of interest in Gilbert and Sullivan or, in this, case, a Gilbert-less Arthur Sullivan, need look no further than this new recording of Haddon Hall, a comic opera based on the romantic tale of Dorothy Vernon in auld Scotland.
The true-life saga of the elopement of Dorothy Vernon with her lover John Manners was familiar to audiences in Victorian England, although, in adapting it for the D’Oyly-Carte canon, Sydney Grundy dated the story a hundred years earlier and featured a chorus of Puritans. No matter: this is the same story, which would find its most popular form as Charles Major’s best-seller, Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, in 1902, in turn the source for popular silent films.
Haddon Hall was a good subject for Sullivan and, for a brief time, actually did better box office than the Mikado. That uniquely great music critic Bernard Shaw liked it best of all of Sullivan’s work, and the initial run of 204 performances was pretty good for a non-G&S work. Since its early success, the opera has faded into obscurity. It is an undeserved obscurity, as this splendid new recording from the Divine Art amply proves. The score is prime Sullivan; he never wrote a lovelier aria than “Queen of the Garden bloomed a rose.” Sullivan took full advantage of the Scottish setting, bagpipes and all, for songs like the infectious “Hech mon! Hech mon!”
Of course, the wit that Gilbert provided Sullivan is sorely missing – there is no equivalent “I’ve got a little list” in Haddon Hall. It is instead a work of unvarnished sentimentality, and as such, nearly flawless.
High praise for the excellent cast, especially the lovely Mary Timmins as Dorothy Vernon, Fiona Main as Dorcas, and Maxwell Smart as the McCrankie. Good choral singing especially, and fine playing by the orchestra. A libretto is included. In an era in which few operas are being recorded at all, much less repertoire rarities, this is a true find, and is highly recommended.